For No Particular Reason at All, Let’s Look at What the Media Was Like in Nazi Germany

Again, no reason

By Gregory Quinn

“Nazi Hierarchy, Hitler, Goering, Goebbels, Hess” — WikiMedia Commons

Recently, for no reason at all, I started wondering what happened to the press during the Third Reich. It does not take a hirsute A&E historian to surmise that it was severely compromised, but — for reasons that have nothing to do with any recent events that come to mind — I think it could be beneficial for us to take a more in-depth look at what the German media was like during the time of Adolf Hitler.

Nearly 5,000 newspapers existed in Germany at the dawn of 1933. (There’s approximately 1,300 daily papers in the United States today, to use a totally random place-and-time comparison.) Those newspapers represented the diversity of political beliefs and positions characteristic of a free, multi-party and democratic political system. On January, 30, 1933, Adolf Hitler, buoyed by a Nazi majority in the Reichstag and an elderly and ineffectual Paul von Hindenburg as president, became German chancellor. Then, on February 27, the Reichstag building caught fire, and a communist was blamed.

Exploiting the attack to stoke public fear, Hitler claimed the fire was a communist plot to overthrow the German government. He adroitly used existing German media — film reels, radio and newspapers — to preach of a violent communist uprising. Doing so gave credence to growing German anxieties, allowing him to sway hesitant Centrists in the Reichstag to align with Conservatives against Social Democrats and vote for the Enabling Act of 1933, giving Hitler authority to make laws without the pesky checks and balances of a democracy getting in the way. A year later, Hindenburg was dead, and Hitler’s ascension to dictator was complete. The free, multi-party and democratic political system was gone, and the vestiges of a free German press would soon follow.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, today I found myself thinking about how Hitler exploited the media to help fuel his shocking ascent to power, a rise that 2/3 of German leaders thought was a mistake as it was happening, and then once in power, dismantled the balancing force that is a free press because it didn’t behoove him politically, and I wanted to write about it. Not sure why this thought came to mind this morning. Just one of those things, I guess.

Following his coronation, Hitler moved to centralize the German press under the purview of the Nazi Party and suppress all possible political opposition. He created the Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda. He appointed failed playwright and far-right German nationalist Joseph Goebbels his “Propaganda Minister.”(Like a right-hand man, sort of a “chief strategist” if you will.) And Hitler shuffled German press, literature, film, music — essentially anything that had any ability to influence culture — under Goebbels’ auspices.

[If you’re wondering why Hitler might have done this, this tweet — I’m sorry, brain fart there — this quote from Mein Kampf offers us some idea: “The receptivity of the great masses is very limited, their intelligence small, but their power of forgetting is enormous. In consequence of these facts, all effective propaganda must be limited to a very few points and must harp on these in slogans until the last member of the public understands.”]

Hitler also commandeered the Franz Eher Nachfolger, a Nazi-owned publishing house that produced major newspapers such as the Völkischer Beobachter and the Illustrierter Beobachter, and he set up holding companies to disguise Nazi ownership and create a facade of objectivity. He shuttered hundreds of politically opposed publications and took control of prominent Jewish publishing houses Ullstein and Mosse, at the time two of largest publishers in Europe, sending their makers scattering the continent in search of safety. 
Almost as if there is some contemporary figure threatening to “open up” libel laws, undermine the ability of the media to keep checks on elected officials, or take apart the Press Corps, I find myself lately thinking about how journalists in the Third Reich who did not align with Nazi philosophy were exiled or sent to concentration camps.

Nazi gangs broke into liberal publications’ headquarters and destroyed their printing presses. The last holdouts of independent publishers simply aligned with Nazi beliefs to save themselves the trouble. By 1944, about one-fifth of all the newspapers that existed in Germany in 1933 were gone.

And there, for no particular reason at all and apropos of absolutely nothing, is a short history of what the media was like during the Third Reich. Now, I wonder what’s in the papers today.

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